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MBTA Issues Request for Proposals to Improve Bus Maintenance Operations

BOSTON - Consistent with a multi-part strategy to reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of its bus maintenance operations, the MBTA today issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from private vendors to provide maintenance of MBTA-owned buses at up to three of the MBTA's nine bus maintenance facilities (Arborway, Quincy, and Lynn). The MBTA is also advertising for contract managers to oversee and monitor any contract that might be awarded as a result of the RFP.

Earlier this year, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) directed the MBTA to pursue three approaches to improving the productivity of its bus maintenance operations. The FMCB's preferred option is to achieve cost savings and productivity improvements through negotiations with the unions representing MBTA bus maintenance employees. The MBTA has held face-to-face meetings with the unions representing bus maintenance workers and it remains the Authority's intent to continue those meetings. MBTA management seeks terms with the unions representing bus maintenance employees that are consistent with the pattern set in the MBTA's December 2016 contract agreement with Carmen's Union Local 589. The three main elements of that agreement were protection of some bargaining unit jobs, acceptance of management actions to drive efficiency, and reforms to work rules and wages to improve productivity.

The second piece of the FMCB's strategy to improve bus maintenance is to enhance productivity through internal management changes to streamline staffing levels and modernize business processes at all nine garages.

These management initiatives, which include an improved staffing model, better overtime management, and more efficient delivery and handling of parts and supplies, have already delivered results. In the last year, annual bus maintenance costs have fallen by more than $12 million. Contributing to these savings are a 20 percent reduction in overtime and a 25 percent savings in parts and services to maintain the bus fleet.

In addition to calling for further meetings with MBTA unions and internal management actions, the FMCB authorized the MBTA to test the market by issuing an RFP seeking bids from private sector leaders to improve bus maintenance productivity while assuring safe and reliable buses for customers.

"The T remains fully committed to continuing to meet with our unions about cost and productivity improvements at all of our bus maintenance facilities," said MBTA Interim General Manager Steve Poftak. "We hope these meetings continue and succeed, but we also owe it to our riders and fare payers to explore all options to improve performance while reducing costs."

Poftak added that savings made by the T in operating expenses are reinvested in the system to improve service for riders.

The RFP seeks proposals that will mirror the public/private partnership operating model used by all fifteen of the state's Regional Transit Authorities. Consistent with that model, the RFP calls for the vendor to put buses into service from the three garages. Once a bus leaves the yard and enters into revenue service, the MBTA Operations Control Center will assume dispatching functions and maintain direction over the buses. Buses will continue to be driven by operators who belong to Local 589.

The RFP issued today calls for a 3.5-year contract with two additional one-year options.

"We have seen real progress as a result of internal improvements initiated by T management," said Poftak. "However, even with these savings, bus maintenance costs at the T remain significantly higher than those of peer agencies. We must continue to find ways to not only control costs, but to ensure we have the operational flexibility to meet future customer needs."

The FMCB will have to approve any contract resulting from the RFP. Poftak said the decision to proceed with posting job descriptions seeking people to manage the potential bus maintenance contract "is a prudent step. If we are to proceed with a contract of this scope and complexity, it is essential that the T is properly staffed to monitor and oversee it."


  • The MBTA's own analysis of its bus maintenance, backed by independent assessments, found that on a per-vehicle-mile basis, the MBTA's costs were more than twice as expensive as the national average for public transit systems with more than 100 buses and an average fleet age of at least nine years.
  • Unsolicited bids received by the MBTA from three private bus companies in March 2017 under the MBTA's innovation proposal policy indicated that the MBTA could save between 30 percent and 40 percent a year on bus maintenance costs at several of the MBTA's smaller bus garages.
  • The three bus garages listed in the RFP handle 28 percent of the MBTA bus fleet. Respondents to the RFP must bid on one, two, or all three garages.
  • The RFP requires that the vendor winning the contract give first hiring preference for machinist/mechanic positions to existing MBTA machinists.
  • The RFP also asks bidders to provide price proposals with the option for a defined benefit retirement pension plan for machinists under any resulting contract.


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